Two victories have been scored in the Temple University Graduate Students’ Association’s (TUGSA) quest to unionize, its officials say.
TUGSA’s cause was unanimously endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO at a conference in Philadelphia that featured Vice President Al Gore.
And on the university front, TUGSA representatives this month met with Provost Corrinne Caldwell to discuss their situation. It was their first meeting with a Temple administator since they addressed the Board of Trustees in January.
According to TUGSA member Rob Callahan, the adminstration made clear from the outset of the one-hour meeting that the university was talking to them as students, not as workers.
Many of their core issues like health care, pay raises and unioizing were not discussed at length, Callahan said. The meeting focused on affirmative action and classroom issues.
“They were unwilling to say anything with substance,” Callahan said. “But we did put our issues out there.”
Caldwell said the meeting with TUGSA was a success. Caldwell would not comment on what was discussed, but she said she looks forward to continuing talks.
In series of resolutions passed in front of 1,000 delegates, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO formally voiced support for TUGSA’s right to form a collective bargaining unit. The announcement makes it clear that negotiations between TUGSA and Temple administration would be the best way to improve work relations, TUGSA contends.
An AFL-CIO statement supports TUGSA’s unionizing efforts and urges President Peter J. Liacouras to meet with and recognize TUGSA as a union. According to the resolutions: “It is clear that Temple graduate employees believe that a union is the best way to represent themselves and to improve their working relationship with the university.”
Getting AFL-CIO backing provides a major network of unions across the state, but it did not come as surprise to members of TUGSA.
The AFL-CIO can provide vast political connections and support from its members on a state-wide basis, Callahan indicated, “important because the AFL-CIO has a lot of political clout.”
TUGSA has been supported by the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT), a group that continues to back TUGSA in its legal battle against Temple. PFT is part of the state AFL-CIO, and it was expected that the organization would help TUGSA receive the endorsement.
In January, the university’s position that the graduate students are not employees was upheld by a Pennsylvania Labor Relations hearing examiner. The hearing examiner ruled that the students are at Temple primarily for academic purposes and do not have the right to form a collective bargaining unit.
This ruling was appealed by TUGSA and is now in the hands of the full Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
University spokesman George Ingram said that Temple’s position has not changed and that the university is waiting for the full board’s decision before commenting.
TUGSA’s contentions to unionize are based on the argument that the work they provide Temple is not equal to their compensation. TUGSA is fighting for better pay, better
health care and more of a voice in classroom affairs.
The current health care plan has a $500 minimum deductible. Members say this not adequate because the high rates deter many of them from seeing a doctor.
Members also claim they are employees because the work they do is not related to their graduate studies.
The resolutions passed by the state AFL-CIO on March 15 help afford TUGSA the AFL-CIO and the mobilization power of its members in the event of a strike. The endorsement also gives credibility to picket lines and helps TUGSA gain the political support of pro-union politicians.
“Whenever you have a work action you need to have the labor community supporting you,” said TUGSA member David Mussatt at the AFL-CIO convention. He said that TUGSA has no plans for any work action but he is very pleased with the resolutions.
TUGSA has been active getting their position out across campus. In February, the group’s members held a work-in demonstration at Tuttleman Learning Center. The work-in was aimed at putting their duties on public display, in an attempt to show exactly the amount of work they handle during a semester.
On the last day of the two-day event, TUGSA members marched to Liacouras’ office to demand a meeting with the president. The request was denied, but Liacouras promised the April meeting with Caldwell.
Both Callahan and Mussatt believed TUGSA members’ strong turnout for the work-in led to the meeting with Caldwell and also validates their action.
“Any time we can get into an administrator’s ear, it is a major victory,” said Mussatt
The group also planned a mock strike, to take place today. Though graduate students will perform their jobs as usual, informational picketing and a rally at noon will spotlight what TUGSA calls “the administration’s continued failure to address graduate employees’ concerns.”